The Financial Times
By Stanley Pignal in Brussels
Published: October 11 2009 18:53 | Last updated: October 11 2009 18:53
The head of the UN refugee agency has called for the European Union to overhaul its “dysfunctional” asylum policy
amid concerns that attitudes to foreigners are hardening in the financial crisis.
Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, warned against turning asylum seekers into scapegoats, as
events in Calais and the Mediterranean seemed to show a waning in Europe’s tolerance for those seeking
Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Guterres expressed “concern” at the situation in the Mediterranean, where
reports suggest that dozens of potential asylum seekers have drowned after being barred access to European
Italy, in particular, has enraged human rights groups with its policy of sending boats carrying African migrants back
to Libya, where most of them originate, without first establishing if their claims for asylum are valid. Mr Guterres said:
“The European problem will not be fixed by dumping protection to Libya.
These agreements can solve the problems of countries in relation of the flows of population but do nothing to protect
the human rights of people.”
The comments from Mr Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, are unlikely to be welcomed by Rome, which
has reacted angrily to any perceived criticism of its policy.
Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, threatened last month to block all EU
business when the European Commission confirmed that it had sent a letter to the
Italian authorities seeking more information on the matter.
Mr Guterres has also called for the UK to consider taking in at least some of those
migrants in Calais who have families already in the UK. EU rules stipulate that
asylum seekers must be processed in the country in which they first arrive in the
bloc but differing attitudes towards refugees mean that the fate of those who
apply for international protection largely depends on which country they arrive in.
“You cannot have a single European space in which you can circulate freely without a passport, with different
criteria in the asylum system.
“This dysfunctionality needs to be addressed,” said Mr Guterres, who is encouraging tentative moves that would
boost co-operation at EU level.
It is virtually impossible to obtain asylum in Greece, for example, whereas northern European countries tend to be
welcoming, he pointed out.
Mr Guterres welcomed evidence that EU members were voluntarily resettling more people who had been granted
refugee status by other countries, for example Iraqis stranded in Syria who were being given the right to move to
But he worried that “the development of attitudes in public opinion that tend to transform foreigners in general, and
asylum seekers in particular, as scapegoats of the current economic crisis”.
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